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Game design & Game thinking - December 6, 2021

GAME MECHANICS: A FUNDAMENTAL COMPONENT OF GAME DESIGN

Here we come to probably one of the most ambiguous topic of the games and gamification world: game mechanics.

The issue with these “bad boys” is that they often get confused with game elements. Indeed they do overlap in some ways but there is definitely an important difference. 

That’s why, before diving into this article, we suggest you read the  article dedicated to game elements which you can find here

Done?

Great, let’s go now!🚀

LET’S MEET THE WHOLE FAMILY

Game mechanics actually don’t travel alone, they belong to the famous MDA frameworkMechanics Dynamics and Aesthetics

MDA FRAMEWORK BI DIRECTIONAL FROM PLAYER TO GAME DESIGNER
A BI-DIRECTIONAL FRAMEWORK

This framework, developed between the years 2001-2004, aims at giving a shareable and unique approach to game design.

Indeed game designers, researchers, developers and scholars can finally use a common framework to decompose the structure of a game to fully understand how It works.

More in depth, from the designer perspective, mechanics come first: these components indeed are the “rules” and components that allow the game to be played and to move forward. If we were talking about a car, for example, the mechanics would be the physical components that make up the whole machine.

Dynamics instead are better described as all those behaviours and strategies that evolve as the player interacts with  the mechanics. If we were talking about cars again ,dynamics would be the drivers’ decision to take the highway to drive faster. During game development, designers can include some mechanics to encourage specific dynamics. But only the player’s interaction will really tell in time if the game is played as originally intended by the designers. 

Aesthetics finally, are the actual emotional responses that the players “feel” while playing. Once again, if we were talking about cars, aesthetics would be the adrenaline felt by the driver when (s)he speeds up on the highway. 

Mind that we are not suggesting speeding up with your car. Racing can be dangerous and we care about our readers 🥺!

A FEW OBSERVATIONS

BIG MAGNIFYING GLASS WITH BOOKS

It’s interesting to notice how the MDA framework can be perceived differently according to one’s role. 

From the designer perspective, mechanics are built first, while dynamics and aesthetics come after.

From the player’s perspective instead, aesthetics are the first encounter. The player then can go deeper and find out the mechanics and dynamics hidden within the game design. But it needs a bit more preparation and awareness than the average player. 

That’s why anyone can play a game and tell if it’s fun, engaging, adrenalinic, boring etc. Anyone can perceive aesthetics without any game design skill. But it’s way harder to tell why the game is fun, what features make it engaging and go beyond the simple emotional layer.   

It’s also interesting to notice how (usually) the more mechanics, the more complexity.

Let’s take chess and checkers, for example:

Checkers has only two types of pieces and their moves are quite limited. While chess has six types of pieces with several different features which makes the game far more complex to play. More mechanics thus more dynamics, more aesthetics. 

SUGGESTED READING

As explain at the beginning, this article aims at clarify the concepts included in “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research” which we highly suggest you to read.

If you liked this article, keep following us as we’ll go further on in game design and explore game dynamics in the following articles.

Stay tuned!

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